It’s Called a Butterfly Party and You’re Invited

I never much cared for butterflies as a child, because to me they symbolized death. Their very existence represented the end of a caterpillar’s life, and I have always preferred beginnings to endings, no matter how beautiful.

My mother was notoriously indecisive, and one summer, when she took my sister and me on a road trip to visit her family in New Jersey, we returned to find that our father had taken it upon himself to purchase a house for $0 down.

She was livid, but I was elated when the home soon became infested with caterpillars. I would trap and tend to them in small buckets in our garage, but the inevitable cocooning would come and then they’d be gone. Caterpillars could never stay the same, and I hated butterflies for it.

My mother, Eileen, died in 2010, and my sister and I sat shiva for a week. When we finally emerged for the customary walk around the block, the first thing we saw was a fluttering yellow butterfly — the first butterfly I had ever seen on the streets of New York. In that moment it was a cruel, complicated, beautiful reminder that nothing can stay the same.

And so butterflies were on my mind four years later, when I was sitting in a parked car redefining my relationship with my girlfriend of nearly three years. She and I will never agree on what we agreed upon that day — a “breakup” or a “breather,” the distinction between which is significant — but I do clearly remember one thing: going home that night and weighing myself.

Something about the rejection made me crave the self-flagellation of weighing in, knowing that I would be disappointed in myself no matter what the scale said.

What I saw was beyond disappointment. It was shock. I had gained 38 pounds in the course of our relationship, cocooning myself, and my sorrow, in limitless glasses of wine. I truly hadn’t noticed. But I hadn’t noticed a lot, having grown fond of avoiding my grief by blacking out.

My girlfriend had certainly noticed, and probably also noticed me not noticing her falling in love with another woman in our final months, as our breather/break evolved into a breakup.

I was left with the excess weight I had put on, and so of course I became obsessed with it. More accurately, I became obsessed with losing the exact amount. I saw it like a cocoon I needed to shed.

And that’s when, in the fall of 2014, the idea was born for the Butterfly Party.

This party would be lavish, and I would invite all of my friends — and especially my ex-girlfriend, or really all of my ex-girlfriends — to witness the most garish of displays of my newfound fitness. I would release five live butterflies and hire a Mariah Carey impersonator to cover Mariah’s “Butterfly” album.

Sparing no thematic detail, the menu would consist of various passed butterflied meats and specialty cocktails infused with sweet nectar.

At the soiree’s climax, I would emerge in a cocoon-like sac that would be shed to reveal my new body.

This idea was born around the same time I was spending far too much time researching whether any of the writers on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” were lesbians, because my ultimate revenge was going to be to find, woo and fall in love with someone from my ex’s favorite TV show.

While I realized that my “S.V.U.” idea was not for sharing publicly, the Butterfly Party became the topic of conversation among my friends. Rather than tell them how much I was hurting, I’d speak of my grand plans, which grew more and more elaborate with each telling. Not five, but 50 butterflies! A venue for up to a thousand! I even reached out to a Mariah Carey impersonator in Orlando, Fla., to get a rate and budgeted up to $5,000 for the event.

And then I got to work. I gave up drinking for a month and lost 12 pounds. In a rather obvious move to most, I stopped ordering two entrees for lunch, soon finding myself satiated by just one.

Within two months, I had dropped 20 pounds and was so confident that I sent out Google Calendar invites to anyone and everyone. I set the date for six months ahead — August 2015 — to ensure that the weather would be optimal for the butterflies to survive.

Then, suddenly, I plateaued. In hindsight, my refusal to exercise or eat significantly better didn’t help matters, but at the time I simply didn’t understand. By July 2015, I was still 14 pounds from my goal, and so the party had to be postponed to the following summer. Over the course of that year, more invites went out for what I still promised would be the event of the season, but by July 2016 I had gained another pound.

The excitement about my party began to give way. My ex and I were communicating again, and my burning desire to have the last laugh or make her jealous was winnowing. I had started seeing other people. And my therapist had convinced me to get on antidepressants, something I had resisted for 20 years.

As my confidence and energy returned, so too did my Butterfly Party planning. The Google Calendar invite was updated to June 2017, a date I could surely meet, and talk resumed among my friends for the long-awaited party.

And then it turned. To my surprise — and likely that of no one else who has ever taken antidepressants — the decrease in my sadness was matched only by the increase in my weight. Every day, a pound would be added to the scale, even on days where I was too busy working and skipped meals. I began to feel like Violet Beauregarde, inflating into a blueberry with no end in sight.

By the end of 2016, I was up 12 pounds and I was 27 pounds from my goal. By June 2017, I was up five more. The party was, again, rescheduled to the following year, but by then I weighed even more than I did when my ex dumped me.

I had failed. I had returned to my bad habits, I had made little progress in any area of my life, and many of my friends — a.k.a., my invite list — had begun to mock me. But I still held, and still now hold, on to the hope that I can change, in body and mind.

And I have begun to.

I have started working out and drinking less. I have found myself hoping less to be struck by lightning and put out of my misery, and am more optimistic about the future. My ex and I are now the closest of friends, and thoughts of my mother have evolved from profound despair to bittersweet memories.

The weight remains, though. As I write this, I am 30 pounds from my Butterfly goal, but I can feel myself transforming. I am slowly emerging from a cocoon tied not to the weight but to the behaviors that produced it.

And so this is it.

I have made the last-ever change to the Google Calendar invite, and have defiantly sent the updated reminder to everyone.

On June 15, 2019, the Butterfly Party will commence, no matter my weight. Butterflies will be released, and in place of a Mariah impersonator, my friends — the friends who have loved and supported and gently nudged me all this time — will be asked to cover the “Butterfly” album, displaying their unique talents. And I will emerge from a decorative sac, maybe 30 pounds lighter than now, or maybe not.

But I will have finally emerged.

Danielle Thomson is a writer and researcher in Brooklyn. If any lesbians working at “S.V.U.” would like to attend the Butterfly Party, please reach out.

Rites of Passage is a weekly-ish column from Styles and The Times Gender Initiative. For information on how to submit an essay, click here. ​To read past essays, check out this page.

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